Business casual has become the new standard in many American workplaces. Even employers with strict dress codes often relax them for “business casual Fridays.” While these policies offer the freedom of self-expression in the way you dress, professionalism is still important. A collection of basic pieces helps you project competence and confidence at the workplace while allowing you to cultivate your own distinctive style.
Defining Business Casual Attire
Not all workplaces define “business casual” the same way, so it’s a good idea to clarify your employer’s policies before shopping. It’s also wise to observe the way your coworkers and superiors dress while at work.
For example, in some offices, denim is still forbidden, though khakis worn with a button-down blouse or twill leggings worn under a tunic would be appropriate. Other workplaces may permit plain dark-rinse or black jeans that are in good condition during the workweek or on Fridays.
Shoes can also be an area of confusion: While loafer shoes for women, ballet flats and dress booties are often good choices, open-toed shoes, sandals of any type, and sneakers might be discouraged. When in doubt, ask a co-worker with seniority, your boss, or human resources for guidance.
Business Casual Basics
Once you have a good idea of what your workplace expects from your wardrobe, it’s time to go shopping. Below are some of our favorite basics for work:
Jackets: Jackets have long been a workplace staple for both men and women. Business casual gives you the option of choosing jackets in colors other than black, gray, or navy or that are embellished with embroidery or appliqué.
Tops: We recommend selecting a variety of tops, including simple shells, sleeveless tops, and tanks to wear under jackets, along with tunic tops, button-down shirts and sweaters to wear on their own.
Dresses: It’s easy to go wrong with business professional dresses, so it’s best to go with simple, straightforward designs. Shirt dresses are one option, particularly when worn with a belt. If you plan on going out in the evening, you could try wearing a less structured dress under a buttoned jacket or long cardigan.
Pants and Trousers: Neutral colors are often best, largely because you want your bottoms to pair easily with tops and jackets.
Shoes: People notice your footwear more than you realize, so put your best foot forward and invest in high-quality shoes and boots. As with pants and trousers, opting for neutral colors will maximize your wardrobe and allow you to put together great business casual outfits even when you don’t have a lot of time.
Do you work in a business casual office? Share some of your favorite office pieces and outfit tips in the comments!